Tearful Chiellini inspires Juve to Spurs win as Italy mourns

LONDON (AP) — Giorgio Chiellini roared in delight as captain Gianluigi Buffon grabbed him by the neck.

It was a fiery show of appreciation from the goalkeeper to the colossus at the heart of the Juventus defense on an emotional night at Wembley Stadium.

Chiellini hadn’t scored against Tottenham but made the last-ditch intervention required — clearing Son Heung-min’s cross — as the clock wound down at Wembley Stadium on Wednesday. It protected a 2-1 victory, secured by Gonzalo Higuain and Paulo Dybala scoring twice in three minutes, to send Juventus through to the Champions League quarterfinals.

“We suffered,” Chiellini said after the 4-3 aggregate win. “It was very difficult. But we maintained the calm.”

On a night when it was so difficult for Chiellini and his teammates to remain composed when Italian football is still shaken, still mourning Fiorentina captain Davide Astori.

Tears rolled down Chiellini’s face amid the celebrations as he paid tribute to his 31-year-old occasional Italy teammate, who was found dead in his room before a Serie A match on Sunday.

“We dedicate it to him, not only this match but every mind on this day,” Chiellini said. “I cried many times. He was a fantastic player. … We would like to continue with his smile in our hearts.”

The rugged image of Astori appeared before kickoff on big screens as Wembley fell silent to remember the defender.

“It was very difficult during the match,” Chiellini said, “because we had to think of the game and the outcome and it’s not easy.”

And however raw the grief, football does eventually resume.

Juventus displayed the resolve missing in the first leg against Tottenham, evidence of the doggedness that has taken the Italian champions to two Champions League finals in the last three seasons.

While Juventus collapsed in Turin to draw 2-2, it was Tottenham’s turn on home soil to throw away a winning position on become the first English team to be eliminated this season.

Chelsea and Manchester United will complete their second legs next week, but two Premier League clubs are already through. A day after Liverpool eliminated Porto, Manchester City advanced Wednesday with a 5-2 victory over Basel despite losing 2-1 at the Etihad Stadium.

Unlike City, Spurs lacked a comfortable lead to be so relaxed. But they had chances to build one early in the second leg.

Harry Kane broke past Chiellini and rounded Buffon only to hit the side netting, while Son skewed a shot wide of the post before finding the breakthrough in the 39th minute.

Christian Eriksen slipped the ball through to Dele Alli but Andrea Barzagli intervened with a sliding tackle. The ball reached Kieran Trippier on the right and a cross was whipped in for Son, whose scuffed shot found its way into the net.

When Tottenham rues its second-half capitulation, it should remember how fortunate it was to avoid losing a player and conceding a penalty in the 17th minute when Douglas Costa was tripped by Jan Vertonghen.

Juventus was not going to go down without a fight. Chiellini was going to make sure of that — the 33-year-old defender charged into Alli to cut out his run after the break, earning a booking.

So much of this last-16 match-up hinged on brief passages of play. For Juventus that came around the hour mark.

First came the substitution and a tactical switch from 3-5-2 to 4-3-3 by Massimiliano Allegri

Kwadwo Asamoah came on for Blaise Matuidi, while Stephan Lichtsteiner replaced Medhi Benatia. And it was Lichtsteiner’s cross that Sami Khedira headed on to Higuain at the far post to reduce the deficit in the 64th minute.

Before Tottenham could regroup it was trailing, with Higuain the creator. Three Tottenham players were held off by Higuain before he released a pass for Dybala to run onto and lift the ball over goalkeeper Hugo Lloris.

“I think we conceded three chances and they scored twice,” Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino said. “I am disappointed because we missed a lot of chances and because the team deserved more.”

From a position of strength, this was a capitulation stemming from a loss of concentration and composure by Tottenham. As Chiellini alluded to, it was clear which team has won the last six domestic titles and which has gone 57 years without a championship success.

“It’s the history of Tottenham,” Chiellini said. “They always create many chances to score … but at the end they miss something.”

There was one chance to force the game into extra time in the 90th. Kane’s header hit the post and the ball crept across Gianluigi Buffon’s goal line before being hooked clear by Andrea Barzagli.

It was agonizing for Tottenham, which beat Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund in the group stage. There will be no third European Cup quarterfinal in its history.

While Juventus advances and challenges for another Serie A title, Tottenham tries to hold on to its top-four position in the Premier League to secure its return to the competition next season.


More AP Champions League coverage: <a target=”&mdash;blank” href=”http://www.apnews.com/tag/ChampionsLeague”>www.apnews.com/tag/ChampionsLeague</a>


Rob Harris is at <a target=”&mdash;blank” href=”http://www.twitter.com/RobHarris”>www.twitter.com/RobHarris</a> and <a target=”&mdash;blank” href=”http://www.facebook.com/RobHarrisReports”>www.facebook.com/RobHarrisReports</a>

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